Garfield High School, Seattle Central District, 2020, Photo by Thu Minh Kha
Protesters running from tear gas, 23rd and Cherry, Seattle, May 26, 1969, Courtesy MOHAI (2000.107.153.09.04)
Garfield High School and Central District, Seattle, 1968, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (77212)
23rd Avenue, looking south from Union Street, Seattle, June 12, 1920, Courtesy UW Special Collections

Central District

Seattle's hub for Black culture and community

by Jackie Peterson

Seattle’s Central District (also called the Central Area, or CD) has been a hub for Black business and culture since the 1960s. The neighborhood spans four square miles, bound to the north by East Madison Street, to the West by 12th Avenue, to the south by South Jackson Street, and to the east by Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Home to the oldest residential area in the city, many single-family homes in the Central District were built prior to 1900. William Grose, a successful Black business owner, purchased a 12-acre ranch bordering the north end of the Central District in 1882. As more Black families arrived in Seattle in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Grose helped many of them secure homes by selling them lots from his parcel.

The ethnic and racial makeup of the Central District has always been in flux. A predominantly Jewish and Italian neighborhood prior to World War I gave way to Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans by the 1930s. World War II brought significant numbers of Black Americans to the Pacific Northwest, both to serve in the military and to work in war-related industries. The practice of “redlining” that developed after the war forced Black Americans to make their homes in this neighborhood, alongside Asian Americans and Latinx Americans. The resulting community developed a wealth of arts and cultural organizations, businesses, and services.

The Central District is home to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Mount Zion Baptist Church, and several historic Black homes. For decades, the 23rd Avenue corridor stretching from East Madison Street south to South Jackson Street served as the main business and civic hub for Black Seattleites. While the city’s development and population growth have disproportionately impacted residents and business in the Central District, 23rd Avenue persists as a center of community pride, art, spirit, and joy.

We begin our tour at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and E Union Street. From here head east on Union toward 24th Avenue and our first stop.

Distance: 2.4 miles
Walking time without stops: 48 minutes
Google Transit Directions: Bus Routes

Tour Stops

1

Liberty Bank Building

2320 E Union Street

After witnessing overt racism in city real estate and banking, a Black-led group of Seattle business and civic leaders worked together to establish Liberty Bank. It was the first Black-owned bank in Seattle, opening its doors on May 31, 1968...

2

Wa Na Wari

911 24th Avenue

Wa Na Wari means “Our Home” in Kalabari, the language of the Ijo in Nigeria. This home for Black arts opened its doors in 2019. The home belonged to co-founder Inye Wokoma’s grandparents and now operates as a cultural space...

3

Medgar Evers Pool

500 23rd Avenue

Built as part of the Model Cities program in 1969, Medgar Evers Pool opened to the public in 1970. The Model Cities program aimed to expand access to health, educational, economic, and recreational services and opportunities to Central District residents....

4

Garfield High School

400 23rd Avenue

A humble building hosting a class of 282 students opened at this location in 1920. Three years later, after construction of a new building designed by architect Floyd Naramore, Seattle Public Schools established Garfield High School. From the 1930s, Garfield...

Originally named for Henry Yesler, one of Seattle’s earliest non-Native settlers and civic leaders, the Yesler Memorial Branch of the Seattle Public Library opened in 1914. It was designed and built by architects Harlan Thomas and W. Marbury Somervell in...

The Central District has a long history of programs dedicated to youth development and empowerment, particularly for Black youth. One of the most impactful has been the Central Area Youth Association (CAYA). Founded in 1964, CAYA initially offered a football...

Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center has served the Central Area since its founding in 1969. Providing free medical care for Black Seattleites was one of the primary initiatives of the Black Panther Party, and Leon “Valentine” Hobbs opened the first...

8

Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park

2100 S Jackson Street

Dr. Blanche Lavizzo was the first Black woman pediatrician in the state of WA, and served as the founding medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic from 1970 until her death in 1984. Dr. Lavizzo was also a dedicated...

9

Pratt Park

201 20th Avenue S

Pratt Park was established as part of several urban renewal projects in the Central Area that were completed in the late 1960s and 1970s. The park is situated among several community-serving buildings, including Bryant Manor, an affordable housing complex, and...

The Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party was the first to organize outside of Oakland, CA. Operations began in April of 1968 in a storefront at 34th Avenue and Madison Street, but after being targeted and raided by the...

Ezell Stephens and Lewis Rudd became friends while working at Brown’s Chicken in Marshall, TX. Together they hatched a plan to open their own fried chicken restaurant. The U.S. Coast Guard brought Stephens to Seattle, where he decided to stay...

12

Flowers Just-4-U

701 23rd Avenue

Opened by Mary Wesley in 1981, Flowers Just-4-U is now the only Black-owned floral shop in the greater Seattle area. Wesley’s business has provided floral services for local churches and events, as well as arrangements for community members’ celebrations and...

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